An out of the ordinary family vacation in Croatia

When I suggested for my husband and children to go to Croatia for a riding holiday in the summer of 2017, there were mixed reactions.

Our eldest daughter cheered, our youngest agreed to come along as long as there were other animals there as well, and my husband wasn’t really that happy about it.

I had done some research and found a place I thought stood out from the rest; Linden Tree Retreat & Ranch. With its secluded location at the foot of the Velebit mountains, and with a clear profile as an eco-resort, this was a place I wanted to try out!

We met «halfway» and decided to book 5 nights at Linden Tree, and 7 nights by the coast of Croatia. Everything should be set for days of undisturbed quality time with the family!

Linden Tree Retreat stood out from the others with a clear sustainable profile and relaxed atmosphere

Meeting Bruce and Megi

When we arrived at the resort in the late afternoon after a drive from Zagreb, the first one to meet us was a very enthusiastic puppy called Leni. With that Emely could already check off one item from her list of wishes for the trip.
Then we were given a warm welcome from our hosts, Bruce and Megi. They have built this ranch based on a dream of creating a unique, exclusive and sustainable retreat where they can be at one with nature. We had been looking forward to meeting them after reading about the concept and their values. The man who left a hectic business life in the United States to find his purpose in life and who, after a long journey, ended up in the Velebit Mountains in Croatia. His vision has come to life in Linden Tree Retreat & Ranch. You can watch him tell his inspiring story here; “How I dared to jump”

First impressions

First, we get a tour of our cabin where we are going to stay. We have booked Buffalo Lodge, which has two bedrooms over two floors, and a kitchen/dining room. This is the original building that existed when they took over the land, and it has a rustic and charming atmosphere. There is a small sign in the hallway that says “Welcome Elisabeth, Ole Henrik, Eline and Emely”, and there is a bottle of sparkling wine in the kitchen with a handwritten note. I love this kind of attention to detail.

The outside area of the ranch is beautiful! Secluded, open and quiet with a mix of architecture. There are North American tipis, round cabins in African style, rustic wooden cabins and safari tents located by the river. Something for each taste! Last but not least – they have a pool and hot tub, something the kids especially appreciated.

The ranch has a great location. This is the view down to the pasture where the horses live. The hot tub on the right, and the pool on the left.

The food

We’d heard that the food at Linden Tree Retreat & Ranch is one of the highlights and that they use organic ingredients either bought from local farms or produced on the ranch itself. We are not disappointed! …. at least that goes for us adults. Our kids are “a little sceptical of new tastes” and would rather have the mainstream food they are used to when travelling. They wouldn’t know how to appreciate food of this quality. In Norway we call this “short travelled food”, and we can appreciate the meaning of this as we see Megi running around picking fresh herbs and vegetables before the meals.
The menu is set on a day to day basis, depending on what ingredients they have available and what guests they have at the ranch. Ole Henrik was very happy to find out that they also produce their own beer!

Natural Horsemanship

After a nice and relaxed breakfast with the best bread I have ever tasted and lots of “cowboy coffee”, we are heading out for our first activity – Natural Horsemanship led by Bruce.

I was expecting a round pen for this session, but that was not the case. What we did was a lot more “Natural”! Bruce took us out to meet the horses in a large field surrounding the area, where they live in a large herd all year round. As we stand there among them we talk about communication, herd behaviour and the natural instincts. We get to pick out one horse each that we want to get to know and are guided through the steps on how to approach them.

Bruce continues to talk about leadership and how we can be good leaders for our horse without using force and aggressive methods.  Eline (10) is praised for her natural and patient approach.

This was a very nice introduction to the horses and the basic values on which they build the relationship with the horses.

The basic principles of Natural Horsemanship is being taught in freedom among the herd. There was a also a camera crew on the site that day filming a documentary on Bruce.

Family trail ride

We have booked a 2-hour trail ride for the whole family in the afternoon. We use western saddles and are introduced to the basic principles as stopping and turning. We are told not to have contact on the bit.

Emely (7) is riding by herself, but it turns out that her horse, Mama, wants to go back home when we are about halfway. I guess we had been a little too optimistic on her behalf, and when her horse started to walk in a different direction than the rest of the group she wasn’t able to turn her back. We managed to fetch her safely, and the guide used a lead-rope on her horse for the rest of the ride. As this was a ride for beginners, Eline and I thought it was a little slow, but on the other hand, it was very nice to go on this ride together as a family.  Ole Henrik was very pleased with his effort on horseback, and Emely didn’t want to ride anymore. Not exactly as we had planned it, but we would have to work around it.

Canoe excursion

It is not only the riding that attracts visitors to Linden Tree Retreat & Ranch. There are plenty of great nature experiences in the area, and we booked a guided canoe excursion with picnic lunch. I can really recommend this one!

Despite our rusty paddling technique, this was a very nice activity. The grown-ups (me and my husband) were singing and enjoying ourselves while we were paddling away. The kids, on the other hand, didn’t quite trust our skills with the canoe, neither did they feel safe with us on the water. Oh, well… They didn’t know what they were talking about.

We stopped for a picnic lunch along the way before paddling back. We got tired, sweaty and sunburned, but it was worth it!

Canoe trip selfie

Hot tub under the stars

This evening we tried out the hot tub which is Japanese style, heated by a woodstove, surrounded by mood lights. We just sit there enjoying the silence (or “silence” as our kids showed up with diving goggles and snorkels) and the sky full of stars. We can hear the horses snort in the distance and the calm country music in the background. This is life!

Full day riding excursion

The following day me and Eline go out on a 6-hour trail ride. We rode with a group of 7, and the trail went up in the mountains with some great viewing points. We really got to feel the physical strength of these horses.  My horse, Riverdance, was a mix of Arab and Quarterhorse and it climbed up the hills without a struggle. This is a quite rough trail, but all of these horses seemed to manage very well. I would not recommend this ride for inexperienced riders as there are a few areas with steep cliffs, and one should know how to handle a horse if anything unforeseen were to happen. We met a motocross bike along the way which made the horses nervous, and there were a couple of riders in the group with no previous experience. They got in a little bit of trouble as we were in a very narrow and steep area. I must mention, however, that the guide handled this very well and he got everyone off of their horses until the motocross had passed through.

As we reached the top, we made a stop in a “ghost town” for a long and relaxing lunch break with food from the ranch. After 3 hours in the saddle, it was nice to take a break for both horses and riders. We took a different trail back down, and this also had steep and rough areas, so I figured I should just sit back and trust the horse to find its way. Again, I was very impressed by how sure-footed these horses were, and I am pretty sure they have a hint of mountain goat in their blood. I was a little concerned about if Eline would handle such a long and rough ride, but she loved it!

Our youngest, Emely, had spent most of the day being creative together with Megi. She had made a wooden door sign for her room at home, and a nice silk scarf. Besides that, they had wandered around the area enjoying the company of foals, cats and dogs.

Full day excursion on the mountains. There were some great viewing spots along the way

Attention to detail

When it comes to the horses at a place like this, I often notice the little details in how they are handled. You can’t expect everything to be perfect, and there were a couple of horses I found to be too skinny, and I also noticed that one of the horses had a fresh wound on its back from the saddle. What was so nice though is that I didn’t even get to mention it before Bruce was there and pointed it out to the staff. The horse was attended to at once. They were also giving extra supplements to the horses that needed it – these were mainly lactating mares with increased energy requirements. They were taken out of the herd on a daily basis to ensure they got what they needed.

I also noticed something else. As one of the horses got impatient and started to paw at the ground with its front legs, the immediate reaction was; “Why is he impatient? Did the other horses get something he didn’t?” I thought this was so nice to hear and it confirmed the general attitude towards horses I am looking for – to be sensitive to what the horse is trying to communicate before correcting it. I got the same confirmation when we were out on the trail, and the horse the guide rode suddenly got insecure and didn’t want to go in front. The immediate reaction was to relax and calm the horse down rather than to force it forward. These are situations that can be very revealing, and although they may seem small and immaterial, they were important observations for my part.

Wagon ride

A popular excursion is the weekly wagon ride in the local village. We packed lunch from the ranch, harnessed the horses and off we went. We got to try the driver’s seat too, something I had never done before. That was fun! We stopped along the way to visit the local dairy farm where they buy their milk and cheese. This is a small community and they support each other as best they can to keep it sustainable. I got some “Postman Pat” vibes from the whole setting. A very nice excursion!

The wagon ride is a popular excursion at Linden Tree Retreat

The last trail ride

As our youngest didn’t want to ride anymore, I stayed behind at the ranch with her as the others went for the final trail ride. Ole Henrik was feeling quite comfortable with the western style, and he had even put on a cowboy hat, so I had to sacrifise this one.

Overall impression

Linden Tree Retreat & Ranch has an incredibly nice, informal and homely atmosphere.

A lovely sanctuary dedicated to a sustainable concept and high-quality food made with love and attention to detail. It is a little hard to describe, but there is a general feeling of calmness over the area. I was sad to leave, and I’d love to spend a few more days to cleanse both body and mind. This place should be prescribed! It is not a hotel, but a way of life. As they describe it; “a portal to what matters”

Thank you, Bruce and Megi